A high school friend asked me to write an article honoring his father, Rex Clark, who took part in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The article was first printed in The Silverado Express on August 4, 2017.
Rex Clark, World War II Army Ranger and Hero
The Battle of Pointe du Hoc, which took place about four miles from Omaha Beach, was a key part of the Normandy invasion on D – Day.
It was a hard-fought battle and in the history written about Pointe du Hoc one man’s heroic bravery is not mentioned. This is his story as told to his sons Archie and Arlo and found in the official records.
Rex Clark was born March 19, 1918 in Canada. When his sister married a man from Boyds, Washington, a small town in the northeast corner of the state, Rex moved down, too. Work was scarce and after finding nothing permanent, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in April 1941. After his training he himself became a trainer but wanting to do more, he volunteered to go overseas. He became a Ranger: Company E, the 2nd Ranger Battalion, part of the 116th Infantry.
The Rangers trained in Scotland and England in preparation for the invasion on the Normandy coast. Part of their preparation was addressing the difficulty in scaling the one hundred foot cliffs at Pointe du Hoc.
In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Companies D, E, and F of the2nd Ranger Battalion approached the beachhead of Pointe du Hoc. Rex was in command of one of the amphibious vehicles that were equipped with extension ladders and had three machine guns mounted on them. They were to be used as one of the means to scale the high cliffs but craters made by Allied bombing and shelling prior to the invasion, as well as rough terrain made it impossible to get the vehicle near the cliffs. German forces had machine gun pits and fortifications on top of the cliffs and were firing down heavily on the assault troops.
When Rex saw that they could not move the vehicles closer, he ordered himself raised on the ladder and began firing his machine guns at the enemy emplacements.
Each time he fired, the ladder would sway backward from the recoil. Of course, the German gunners began firing at him, too. He diverted much of the returned fire away from the assault troops. Two enemy automatic weapons were neutralized and many of the enemy pinned down, which enabled his comrades to advance.
When Rex decided to lower the ladder, the button which retracted it malfunctioned.
He told his sons that this is when he really got scared because the ladder looked like Swiss cheese from all the bullet holes. He was partway down when the ladder broke. Rex landed in one of the craters which, fortunately, had enough water in it to cushion his fall. Although disoriented at first, he was able to get up and make his way to the cliffs.
The Rangers took control of the German battery on June 6th but continued to fight German counterattacks until June 8th when they were finally relieved by troops arriving from Omaha Beach. By then, of the initial landing force of two hundred twenty-five men, one hundred thirty-five were killed or wounded, leaving ninety to fight.
Rex’s entire unit received a citation for outstanding heroism and Rex himself received the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery in action.
Atop the cliffs, the area taken by the Rangers is still there for visitors to see and tour. There is a memorial, a museum, and many of the original fortifications. In 1984, on the fortieth anniversary, President Ronald Reagan gave a speech at the memorial in honor of the battle.
When asked why he ordered himself raised on the ladder, exposing himself to enemy fire Rex said simply, “Well, somebody had to do it.”
Rex did get well.
Photographs Courtesy of Rex’s sons, Archie and Arlo Clark